A 169-page petition to list all polar bear under the US Endangered Species Act was filed on February 16, 2005 by the Center for Biological Diversity. Regulations of the USF&WS give the Service 90 days to determine if the listing "may be" warranted. If it may be warranted, then the Service has two years to notice the public for comments and to complete its review. Though the title of the petition states that it is a petition to list polar bear as "threatened," the petition content clearly asks multiple times that it be listed as "threatened or endangered."
No polar bear population is currently listed under the ESA, though readers may be confused about that, given the difficulty they have had with trophy importation. Those problems have arisen from the species listing under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, not the ESA. If any population becomes listed as "endangered" under the ESA, then trophies of those will not be importable under the 32-year-old practices of the USF&WS. Of course, we have been working to change that too.
The petition demands the separate review of the status of each of the 20 currently recognized polar bear populations of the world. It incorrectly alleges that at least seven of the 20 populations are declining or of unknown number. The petition is also full of legal traps for the USF&WS. It alleges each of the recognized 20 polar bear populations meets the "distinct population segment" criteria under the ESA, and asserts that each must be individually and comprehensively considered separately for listing. The ESA provides that a species is "threatened" if it is "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." The petition argues that the "foreseeable future" reasonably means 100 years and that every separate one of the 20 populations independently is a "significant part of its range." Both points, "foreseeable future" and "significant portions of range," are fertile legal issues today.
The primary cause of the threat to polar bear is alleged to be "global warming." The petition alleges that greenhouse gases will raise Arctic temperatures by 13.6º F over the next 100 years, which will in turn cause summer sea ice to decline by 50 to. 100 percent. This speculative projected loss of habitat (melting away) and its effect on polar bear prey animals will cause "severe endangerment and likely extinction in the wild by the end of the century." The extreme projections of an Arctic ice meltdown are over 40 pages of the petition, which is the largest assertion. An additional 60 pages are directed to six other classes of threat, beginning with 1.) oil and gas exploration, 2.) hunting, 3.) contaminants, 4.) disease, 5.) predation and 6.) scientific research and collecting, in that order. Imagine, even scientific collecting is alleged to be a threat!
The petition is based on extreme projections and assumptions, not the best scientific evidence and not present conditions. In our studied view, no population in the world is likely to be found "threatened," much less "endangered" in the foreseeable future. Though the Marine Mammal Protection Act has express provisions partially exempting Native Alaskans, the ESA does not.
The allegations against hunting fall into two categories: First, the Center for Biological Diversity alleges that quotas should be set more conservatively in light of the projected deterioration of habitat and prey. Second, they allege that the January 2005 increase in hunting quotas in Nunavut from 403 bears to 518 bears, just over 25 percent, is threatening the bear in itself. These allegations are only one page of the petition, but are supported by a 15-page Appendix on "The Impacts of Hunting." In our view, there is no substance to these misleading allegations whatsoever. The extreme projections of changes in habitat and prey base are so distant in time as to hardly be relevant to current quotas. There is no evidence that quotas will not be adaptively adjusted if and when necessary under existing regulatory mechanisms. There is undisputed, longstanding evidence that the hunting quotas generate social, economic and even biological conservation benefits that enhance the survival of polar bear. In short, the hunting provides a net benefit, which means the bear will be worse off if they are listed. The ESA generally does not provide benefits for recovery of foreign species as it does for domestic species. The new quotas are still historically low and more selective than in past decades. They also have less biological impact because of targeting male bears. There is reason to believe that the bear population in Nunavut is increasing as the local people and authorities believe. The shift from native to tourist hunting with the concomitant decrease in female harvest over a decade ago should have caused an increase in the number of bears. It is no surprise. The hunting conservation strategy has caused the increase, as expected. The Inuits have every reason to complain as they get overrun by females and cubs, as the population responds to the successful decade-old management strategy. It is only right that the quota be increased to keep up with the successful, projectable increase in bear.
The petition singles out the alleged "over harvest" in the McClintock Channel that led to its closure, but that too is misleading. A mistaken overestimate of that population’s numbers resulted in a mistaken quota, which has already been adaptively adjusted. The underlying problem is solved and the consequences of the mistake were not as great as they otherwise would have been had most of the harvest not been males which, biologically speaking, are minimally relevant to the rate of reproduction according to the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and other experts.
Gulf of Boothia
The question remains: What effect will the listing petition have on Conservation Force’s petition to permit importation of trophies of Gulf of Boothia polar bear? The Center for Biological Diversity specifically attacks hunting in the Gulf of Boothia, but its allegations are wholly incorrect. It alleges that the population is only 900, that the population is "stable" but that the quality of that population estimate is "poor," and that the recent increase in the quota from 41 bears to 74, a 33 percent increase, can’t be justified. It concludes that "over hunting is now likely impacting this population." The problem with these assertions is that they are all based upon an outdated population estimate from more than a decade ago. Conservation Force’s petition to permit trophy imports from the Gulf of Boothia is based upon a newer, top-quality estimate of 1,500 bears not 900.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a relatively small environmental organization that takes credit for having added 225 species to the ESA list. Its web address, where a copy of the petition can be found, is: www.biologicaldiversity.org. In January, an Arizona jury awarded a $600,000 judgment against the Center for Biological Diversity for defaming an Arizona landowner by making false, unfair, libelous and defamatory statements about his grazing allotment.
We will follow this challenge closely and coordinate our efforts with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Northwest Territory provincial authorities and Nunavut interests. We need contributions to meet this new challenge and to see through our petition to approve Gulf of Boothia polar bear trophy imports.